Human head orientation and eye visibility as indicators of attention for goats (Capra hircus)

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3073
Journal / PublicationPeerJ
Online published9 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes



Animals domesticated for working closely with humans (e.g. dogs) have been shown to be remarkable in adjusting their behaviour to human attentional stance. However, there is little evidence for this form of information perception in species domesticated for production rather than companionship. We tested domestic ungulates (goats) for their ability to differentiate attentional states of humans. In the first experiment, we investigated the effect of body and head orientation of one human experimenter on approach behaviour by goats. Test subjects (N = 24) significantly changed their behaviour when the experimenter turned its back to the subjects, but did not take into account head orientation alone. In the second experiment, goats (N = 24) could choose to approach one of two experimenters, while only one was paying attention to them. Goats preferred to approach humans that oriented their body and head towards the subject, whereas head orientation alone had no effect on choice behaviour. In the third experiment, goats (N = 32) were transferred to a separate test arena and were rewarded for approaching two experimenters providing a food reward during training trials. In subsequent probe test trials, goats had to choose between the two experimenters differing in their attentional states. Like in Experiments 1 and 2, goats did not show a preference for the attentive person when the inattentive person turned her head away from the subject. In this last experiment, goats preferred to approach the attentive person compared to a person who closed their eyes or covered the whole face with a blind. However, goats showed no preference when one person covered only the eyes. Our results show that animals bred for production rather than companionship show differences in their approach and choice behaviour depending on human attentive state. However, our results contrast with previous findings regarding the use of the head orientation to attribute attention and show the importance of cross-validating results.

Research Area(s)

  • Approach behaviour, Attentive states, Choice behaviour, Livestock, Social cognition

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